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Elemental Demonstrates 4K HEVC Video at 60 fps in London
Real-time video at 60 fps and on-demand video at 120 fps are practical today, says Elemental. One challenge is getting high-quality content.
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Video solutions company Elemental Technologies is demonstrating 4K video compressed using HEVC (H.265) in real-time and at 60 frames per second (fps).

The demo, held today at London's Hotel Pullman, takes a 4K mezzanine content source encoded in high bitrate H.264 and processed in real-time to 4K HEVC P60 (60 fps), then transmits it over an Ethernet network to a software-based decoder for display on an 84-inch ultra-HD television.

“Right now we are pushing the envelope,” says Keith Wymbs, vice president of marketing at Elemental. “We don't think anyone else is showing this. We could we have waited until NAB 2014, but since we have the ability to do it we are getting real-time 60 fps out there so that others can start doing tests and proofs of concept to help 4K move forward.”

The source material is an MLS play-off match recorded by Elemental on a Red camera and edited into a six-minute clip. The sports content is significant given the concern that sportscasters like Sky Sports have regarding the frame rate necessary for a quality ultra-HD live experience. They don't consider 4K at anything less than 50 fps good enough, saying it leaves noticeable blurring and judder which higher frame rates can overcome.

Elemental is also showing a variety of bit-rates at 4K HEVC starting at 20Mbps.

“We had a lot of people not believing what we claimed on previous tests, so we did this to prove the real-time nature of it,” Wymbs says. “I would say we have capacity to go higher than P60, though not necessarily in real-time. We could definitely produce on-demand assets at a 120 rate if content were available to do that. The challenge, even with 60, is getting decent content, which is why we shot this source material ourselves. On the file side we can already get there, but there are not necessarily TVs to display 60 fps.”

Advancing beyond 60fps requires innovation from Intel and Nvidia. “To get to live p60 there's going to have to be another underlying innovation on the processing side,” Wymbs says.

The London test was the latest in a series of firsts for the company. After unveiling a 4K H.264 solution at NAB last April, Elemental advanced its HEVC software codec implementation to support 4K/H.265 and chased that at IBC with an HEVC 4K implementation for file-to-file-based processing in non-real-time at 30fps. At the Osaka, Japan, marathon this October, Elemental demonstrated live real-time capture and delivery of 4Kp30 for K-Opticom Corporation.

The London event is the next evolution of the Elemental Live software processor, which is able to leverage off-the-shelf GPU processing from Nvidia.

“When we came into the market four years ago we had pre-developed our core technology,” Wymbs says. “A lot of people didn't believe that you could do real-time on graphics processors, but we applied it to the problem of getting video to multi-screen. Needing to convert one form of content file or stream into a dozen different profiles or more was a challenge for the industry since a lot of the infrastructure was limited to one-to-one translation. We were able to do that.

“What we've been trying to prove over the last year is that our underlying technology is powerful enough not just for multi-screen, but for next generation HEVC compression in terms of resolution increase and potentially bit depth and frame rate increase, as well.”

Wymbs suggests that we may see the first 4K channel launch as soon as the first half of 2014. Netflix, for example, has already tested the water by outputting 4K clips.

“We'll start to see some more public demonstrations of 4K HEVC delivered to set-top boxes with a real-time decoder, fully compliant with standards, at NAB,” Wymbs says. “2014 will be a battle between whether software and virtualisation really does go deep into the video processing industry, as it has in other forms of technology and IT, or whether we'll see more purpose-built processing.

“There are applications where such processing makes sense, but the tide is starting to move toward true software-based technologies because of the amount of change, the speed of the market, and the rate at which off-the-shelf GPUs can handle the processing of even the most intensive algorithms.”

In related news: Norway's Barnfield Technologies claims to have successfully completed transmission tests for 4K, 60 fps, 10 bits 4:2:2 baseband signal over a single fiber. The test was made with a single-frame Barnfind multi-format media converter on either side of the optical link. Village Island’s VillageSTUDIO 4K play-out system was used to generate the 4K content.

According to Barnfind CTO Arild Skjeggerud, “Everybody knows how jitter-sensitive multiple SDI link transmission can be over fiber. Barnfind’s architecture enables each SDI link to remain synchronous with minimum delay through the entire transmission chain, which is quite an accomplishment.”

Michael Van Dorpe, Village Island CEO, added: “While several head-end equipment companies report progress regarding 4K 30p transmission, the world is moving toward 50p/60p and customers are very aware of compression artefacts and unnecessary latency. The fact that Barnfind offers unaltered raw data direct transmission without any delay is a significant achievement and valuable asset for all broadcasters preparing for 4K.”

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